Local vet remembers nightmare in paradise

Friday, December 7, 2001

Ken Anderson figured he'd found a tropical paradise when his Navy job took him to Pearl Harbor.

"I thought I was in heaven," said the Navy veteran and Cape Girardeau resident. He was 20 when he was stationed in Hawaii with a search-and-rescue plane squadron in August 1941.

But 60 years ago today, his island adventure turned into a nightmare when the Japanese attacked shortly before 8 a.m. on a quiet Sunday morning.

Today, Anderson, 80, is one of only a handful of area residents who count themselves as Pearl Harbor survivors. He will be honored at 1 p.m. today at a ceremony at VFW Post 3838 in Cape Girardeau.

"We are an endangered species," he said with a smile, proudly wearing a Pearl Harbor Survivors Association hat.

Anderson still has vivid memories about the attack.

"The first bomb hit about 50 yards from our hangar," said Anderson. "We thought maybe an airplane crashed or a gas tank blew up."

He and his fellow squadron members on Ford Island ran outside. They initially thought it was just a military exercise. Then they saw the destruction.

"We saw everything blowing up all around us," said Anderson, who could see the U.S. battleships on fire a short distance away.

Anderson said he and others jumped into a ditch as Japanese planes attacked. "They were dive bombing. They tried to strafe the ditch," he recalled. Bullets shot past him on both sides.

Miraculously, Anderson and his fellow squadron members escaped unscathed.

Anderson said he and others initially were in shock. They soon recovered and started firing back from machine guns mounted on parked planes.

The attack lasted about two hours, Anderson said. There were 3,700 people killed or wounded.

The Japanese sank or severely damaged 18 ships and destroyed almost 200 planes.

Anderson considers himself lucky to be alive. "It could have been a hell of a lot worse," he said.

He and others in the military thought the Japanese would soon land. "Our greatest fear was that they were going to invade," he said.

That didn't happen. Anderson, who served as a radioman and gunner on search-and-rescue planes, later took part in the Battle of Midway, assisting in a torpedo attack.

Discharged in April 1944, the South Dakota native ended up working for the flight service station in Cape Girardeau. He retired as chief of the flight service station in January 1984.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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